In their book “Think Like a Freak” — a sort of sequel to “Freakonomics” — authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner assert that the three hardest words to say in the English language are not, in fact, “I love you.”
Rather, they are: “I don’t know.” When you make that admission instead of asserting an answer or bluffing your way through a situation, you become vulnerable. But that vulnerability can be a key to reframing a situation in order to look at it differently and honestly.
With that in mind — fresh, in fact since that’s my current audio book selection as I continue to be stunned by how much I like having books read to me — I want to examine the Minnesota Twins and their 4-1 start.
I’ve divided this list into 10 different subjects. The first seven are things we have learned and know about the team already — or more accurately, things at least that I think we know. But the last three are the real big ones. They’re the things where I’m willing to say, “I don’t know.” And they will ultimately define the season.
Here we go:
THINGS WE KNOW
Willians Astudillo needs at-bats until proven otherwise. You knew I had to start there, right? In a “three true outcomes” MLB world (walk, strikeout or home run), Astudillo is a “one and only outcome” player. He will put the ball in play. He’s come to the plate 11 times this year and put it in play 10 times — six hits in nine official at-bats, plus a sacrifice fly and a hit by pitch. No walks. No strikeouts. Astudillo seems at least adequate as a catcher and didn’t look overmatched at third base in Wednesday’s 7-6 win. He’s a folk hero and a fan favorite. But he also can hit, and he needs as many opportunities to show it as possible.
Nelson Cruz was worth every penny. The Twins signed Cruz to a one-year, $14.3 million deal to be their designated hitter. You could argue that with their roster, they didn’t need one primary DH. But when you see Cruz in their lineup, he makes everything click. Some guys just look like a threat and give you confidence they’re going to hit the ball a long way. Cruz is that guy.
They’re going to hit. The lineup looks good one through nine, and that’s with just one home run so far. It helps that they’ve hit 17 doubles (to just four for their opponents), several of them in the gap but some of the hustle variety. Once temperatures climb and balls start flying, look out.
Byron Buxton needs to harness his energy. I love the fact that Buxton is fearless and that he thinks he can catch anything in the air in his general vicinity. But part of his maturation and potential breakout in 2019 involve staying healthy. And staying healthy means that on occasion he has to pull up and accept that a ball is going to be a double instead of crashing into the wall, bruising his back and facilitating an inside-the-park home run in the process, as he did Tuesday in nearly costing the Twins the game and potentially suffering a more serious injury.
The Twins appear to be resilient. That’s a great trait for a team to have. In both wins against the Royals, they overcame late deficits and momentum-turning innings that could have sealed their fate. Two games is not a significant sample, but they sure didn’t look like they were panicking when they fell behind.
The bullpen has some quality depth. Twins relief pitchers — not counting Martin Perez, who made a relief appearance as sort of a second starter behind Michael Pineda against Cleveland — have pitched a combined 13 innings so far and allowed just two earned runs while striking out 13 batters. Every one of the bullpen guys is an asset, led by Taylor Rogers and his team-high four appearances.
It’s a bad idea to get too excited after five games. All that said, let’s remember that it’s VERY early. Using the football analogy I’m so fond of, five games is about 1/32nd of a season. If this was the NFL, we’d be at halftime of the first game — hardly a time to draw too many conclusions. The Twins, after all, started 4-2 and 7-4 last year but were 9-15 by the end of April.
THINGS WE DON’T KNOW
Will the pitching hold up? This seems like it will define the season. There’s enough offensive depth and quality to score plenty of runs. But will the pitchers — particularly the starting five — be good enough? I don’t know.
How will they stack up against better competition? The Twins took 2 of 3 from an injury-riddled and in-transition Cleveland team and then two more from a bad Royals squad. They probably wouldn’t escape with a win against a better team with the kind of fifth inning they played in Kansas City on Wednesday. The competition will get better — including Friday in Philadelphia. Will the Twins still look so resilient and competent? I don’t know.
Is there something special brewing here? Wow, I went there. Yeah, it’s just five games but something feels good here. Sometimes a team plays and seems to have a certain chemistry and quality about it. I don’t know if the Twins have it, but I like what I’ve seen so far.